Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Zeldin’

Writer / director Alexander Zeldin’s last play LOVE, about homelessness, also in the Dorfman Theatre at the National, had a huge impact on me. Although I knew what was happening to our welfare system, it confronted me with the consequences very vividly in an emotional rollercoaster that made me sad, angry and ashamed. This is a companion piece, very much in the same style.

Hazel is a volunteer running a drop-in centre providing a hot meal to anyone who needs one, but it becomes much more than that. There’s a choir, with it’s temporary choirmaster Mason, who also helps with the lunches, and advice, counselling, companionship, and belonging provided by Hazel, a woman brimming with compassion and a heart of gold. Just about everything the state no longer provides, in fact.

One of the main threads in the play involves Beth, whose daughter has been taken into care, and her sixteen-year-old son, who’s been forced to become the responsible one in this single parent family. Young Anthony and old Bernard live in an unwelcoming hostel which they escape from for a few hours. Karl fills at least one gap of the many his carer can no longer fill. Tharwa and her daughter Tala come for food, but get so much more. A slice of life in uncaring Britain.

Zeldin’s theatrical style is heightened realism and natural pacing. Natasha Jenkins’ extraordinary design places the audience as onlookers in an authentic community centre in natural indoor light, with characters sometimes occupying seats amongst us. The cast, including three from the previous play, inhabit these characters fully, with the wonderful Cecilia Noble as Hazel, the heart of the piece in every sense, Nick Holder excellent as the very complex Mason, and an empathetic performance from Alan Williams as Bernard.

In some ways it’s LOVE Part Two, but I didn’t find it as bleak and harrowing, perhaps because Hazel represents the kindness real people offer to compensate for what the system no longer does, and there are flashes of humour which provides some release. It still had much impact, though; important, urgent theatre that has to be seen.

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This is one of the most upsetting and unsettling plays I have ever seen. Like Ken Loach’s recent film I, Daniel Blake, it puts up a mirror to our current badly broken and inhumane welfare system. It’s more heart-breaking because you’re there, live, witnessing the helplessness and hopelessness. It’s a devastating experience, but it has to be seen.

They have literally turned the Dorfman Theatre into the communal area of a homeless hostel and we’re sitting in it. There’s an extraordinary roof with skylights scraped by the branches of trees. We can see into a couple of the rooms our characters inhabit. Sometimes they sit amongst us and at the end we are compelled to help one. It’s an extraordinary immersive experience, in full neon lighting so even the audience can’t hide their feelings.

Two homeless families are at the centre of the story. Newly arrived young couple Dean and Emma, with Dean’s two children Jason and Paige. Emma is heavily pregnant. They occupy one cramped room. In the room next door are Colin and his mum Barbara. He’s her carer. They’ve been there twelve months. There’s also a Somalian refugee and a Syria refugee who arrives and leaves during the play, but it’s the two British families experiences at the heart of the piece. Though we hear some of their back stories, it’s really about the system and how it treats them and the stress of being cooped up with no end in sight. Every character moved me at some point, but it was four people sharing one can of soup and some bread from a food bank, then the youngest child saying that she was still hungry, that moved me most. I’d eaten more before I left for the theatre.

Nick Holder’s Colin and Anna Calder-Marshall’s Barbara both had me in tears. Luke Clarke and Janet Etuk played Dean and Emma with great sensitivity and dignity, and Bobby Stallwood and Emily Beacock as Jason and Paige were extraordinary. Natasha Jenkins’ uber realistic design is stunning. This is the first work by writer director Alexander Zeldin I’ve seen and it’s hugely impressive.

The standing ovation seemed as much a statement of support for the homeless as it did admiration for one of the most authentic and moving pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. I now feel motivated to campaign and I start by urging you to go and see it.

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